3 Tips for Increasing Happiness at Work

Given that many of us will spend up to one-third of our lives at work, it’s not surprising that happiness at work is a topic of concern. Research shows that our happiness at work determines how motivated, productive, and engaged we are.

As an ACHIEVE trainer for the Psychological Safety in the Workplace workshop, I have had many discussions with participants and teams about workplace well-being and satisfaction. I am often asked, “What actions and circumstances best lead to happiness at work?” 

The answer? Happiness at work is complex. Various influences and factors contribute to our well-being at work including organizational culture, the alignment between our values and the organization’s, and the level of job compensation and security.

While some of these factors may be beyond our control, happiness can be enhanced through specific behavioural and cognitive practices, referred to in positive psychology as “positive interventions.”

Here are three positive interventions you can use to increase your happiness at work:

Strive for the Happiness Zone

Research shows that 40 percent of personal happiness results from our own actions, behaviours, and thought patterns. This 40 percent zone is where you have some control over your happiness and where practicing positive interventions will be most helpful. However, this practice will be different for everyone. Some people are happiest when they accomplish a goal at work, while others feel most happy when they are connected and collaborating with colleagues. It’s important to understand which activities contribute to individual happiness at work.

Prioritize the behaviours, actions, and conditions that lead to a sense of well-being during the workday.

One way to begin is to prioritize the behaviours, actions, and conditions that lead to a sense of well-being during the workday. Take note of activities that seem to uplift your mood during the week. Carefully observe your workdays, becoming mindful of the activities, behaviours, or situations that create a sense of a good day versus a bad day. Look for a pattern across the days and weeks. Are there certain activities, situations, or circumstances that consistently seem to contribute to a positive workday? Make a conscious effort to prioritizing doing more of them.

Focus on Meaningful Interactions

The importance of interpersonal connections at work is noted in ACHIEVE’s book, The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work. People are more apt to feel satisfied and engaged when they have positive relationships at work.

A first step to creating meaningful connections at work is to improve your listening skills and increase the depth and value of your interactions. During a workplace interaction, consciously choose to actively listen to what someone has to say and invite them to share more during the conversation. Researchers refer to this as listening generously – we allow the person to have the entire spotlight to feel genuinely listened to and validated.

Simple responses like “That’s great, I’d like to hear more,” or “It sounds like this is important to you, I’d like to learn more,” can make a team member feel more valued, resulting in increased well-being at work. As the listener, you feel good too because you are creating a more meaningful interaction. Remember, the more connected and positive interactions we have with work colleagues, the happier our work experience.

Generate Gratitude

Completing a gratitude exercise even once a week has been proven to increase happiness over time. There is no better place to practice gratitude than at work, given the amount of time we spend there.

People are more apt to feel satisfied and engaged when they have positive relationships at work.

One of the most simple and effective ways to practice gratitude is by keeping a gratitude journal. Record the things in your workweek you felt grateful for. Examples may include compliments you received about your work, small wins or accomplishments, or completing a difficult task. To make this team-based, try keeping a gratitude jar.

Invite your colleagues to join you in recording things they are grateful for. Use sticky notes, or if you are a virtual team, post something on a virtual collaborative whiteboard. On Friday, go through the notes. The best part of this simple exercise is the immediate uplift in mood and perspective shift that occurs from recognizing just how many things went well during the workweek.

Workplace happiness takes effort and practice, but the result is improved well-being, greater productivity, and stronger workplace connections – all of which can result in decreased stress and more work satisfaction. Happiness at work is truly worth the effort.

By:Jennifer Kelly

Source: 3 Tips for Increasing Happiness at Work | ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership

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How To Adopt The Japanese Approach To Accepting Life’s Challenges, “Ukeireru”

Life since the coronavirus pandemic has been a lot to swallow. But in terms of how to cope and carry on, the best first step may indeed be accepting the realities we’ve faced, however difficult or grim.

In Japan, the concept of acceptance is fundamental to the traditional culture. There are many Japanese words that translate to “acceptance” – “ukeireru” is just one of the more current choices, but people may refer to the concept using others. Regardless of word choice, psychologists say acceptance is a value that can go far in helping us manage stressors big and small, from coping with a Wi-Fi outage to living through a global pandemic.

“Sometimes it’s necessary to accept who you are, what you do, and what society does to you,” explains Masato Ishida, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Okinawan Studies at University of Hawai`i at Manoa. It’s not the same thing as resignation, he adds. Rather, it’s more so accepting the current situation in order to make peace with it and either make the best of it or move on.

Shigenori Nagatomo, Ph.D., a professor of religion at Temple University specializing in East Asian Buddhism research, uses the English word “harmony” to describe how acceptance or ukeireru is part of Japanese culture. “Human beings are understood to be ‘beings in nature.’ Hence the importance of establishing harmony with it and with everything else in the world,” he says.

A lot of people in Japan have an aim-high, work-hard attitude, which makes it tough to accept anything less than perfect, Ishida explains. So this underlying way of acceptance helps in those times when everything doesn’t go according to plan.

How to embrace “ukeireru” in your own life:

Ukeireru goes beyond self-acceptance. It’s about accepting the realities that surround you, too – your relationships, your roles in the communities you’re a part of, and the situations you face – rather than fighting them, according to Ishida.

What’s more, psychology research tells us being more accepting of our own thoughts and emotions without judging them promotes improved mental health and helps us better cope with the stressors we do face. Scott Haas, Ph.D., a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based psychologist, wrote a book on the topic of ukeireru after studying Japanese culture (Why Be Happy? The Japanese Way of Acceptance). He explains that by practicing acceptance, you make space in your life to move on from negative or unpleasant situations. For example: To find motivation to get a new job, you first have to accept you’re ready to move on from your current role — or, to start grieving the loss of a loved one, you have to accept they’ve passed away, Haas explains.

Acceptance is much different from resignation, which is when you submit to something you’re facing and give up in terms of making a change for the better, or getting out of that situation. Its also isn’t necessarily something you block out a half hour in your calendar to practice. Rather, it’s a mindset to guide your thinking day after day. Ishida describes it as a “slow-cook philosophy,” meaning the more you bake it into how you interact with people and the world, the more naturally you’ll find yourself using it in response to stressful and negative situations.

So how do you get started? Here are some tips:

Make time to connect with nature.

When it comes to accepting reality, the very ground we stand on is a good place to start, Haas says. Get a houseplant. Go for a walk. Spend more time outdoors! It will help you establish that harmony with nature that Nagatomo is talking about, which is fundamental to acceptance.

Recognize what’s actually stressing you out when you’re feeling wound up.

It’s going to be tough to accept situations if you’re misinterpreting what’s upsetting you, or what stressors you’re actually facing, Haas says. Are you arguing more with someone in your household because they’re behaving differently – or because you’re both stressed about the hardships brought on by the pandemic, for example? Are you really stressed about your dry cleaning not being ready – or because you have a big work deadline that week that’s putting you on edge outside of working hours, too?

“It doesn’t always feel obvious when you’re experiencing it,” Haas says. But oftentimes the problem isn’t you or the other person (in whatever situation you’re stressed about), it’s some underlying problem that’s ramping up tension. Try to practice connecting more with the root issue and not burying it with timely stressors.

Remind yourself that every situation is temporary.

We tend to feel stressed when we feel trapped, Haas says. And one way to make any situation immediately less stressful is to remind yourself that it’s temporary – and whatever unpleasantness or burden you’re feeling won’t last forever, he explains.

Practice mindfulness or meditation.

Take time to do things that help ground you in the present moment. Take time to do things that help you tune into your thoughts and feelings over the noise of whatever outside stressors you’re facing. Mindfulness and meditation practices can help you do this, Haas says – so can journaling, going for a walk by yourself, or listening to music. “Anything that helps you remove yourself from a situation to create space away from the stress can help enormously,” Haas says.

Make incremental changes.

Change doesn’t happen overnight, so don’t expect it to. Whatever new situation you find yourself in that you’re trying to accept and adapt to, do so by making small, incremental changes to your routine, Haas says.

For example, don’t compare a new significant other to your past relationships; but instead work to appreciate each trait that makes this person who they are. This kind of mindset can be applied elsewhere, too: Focus on making one new friendship at a time after moving to a new place, familiarize yourself with each process at a new job gradually, or learn to move with your body after a major injury (you won’t wake up on day one feeling back to normal!). It takes time for something new to become familiar, feel routine and truly meaningful to you.

Don’t be afraid to abandon routines that aren’t working for you.

And when it comes to adopting those new routines, be flexible. If something isn’t working, figure out something else to do, Haas says. For example, a lot of people picked up new hobbies (like baking bread, doing needle point, or birding) or habits to help them get through 2020 and the pandemic. If those routines are no longer making you happy, helping you find joy in the present moment, or no longer feel worthwhile in 2021 and beyond, move on and try something else, Haas says.

Be kind — to others and to yourself.

Remember, it’s okay to feel fear, sadness, or anxiety about all the uncertainty we’re experiencing right now. Rather than beat yourself up for those feelings or try to fight them, be kind and compassionate toward yourself. It’s part of acceptance, Haas says. You have to be okay with feeling the way you do. And then you can go ahead and figure out how you can make yourself feel better.

If your feelings of anxiety or sadness have become unmanageable, it’s important to seek out help immediately. Professionals at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a national nonprofit with local chapters in each state, can assist you in finding the appropriate resources to manage your anxiety at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org.

By: Sarah DiGiulio

Sarah DiGiulio is a New York City-based writer and editor who covers psychology, mental health, fitness, sleep, and other health and wellness topics.

Source: How to Adopt the Japanese Approach to Accepting Life’s Challenges, “Ukeireru”

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More Contents:

31 Simple Tricks Experts Use To Stay Resilient, Hopeful, And Happy During The Toughest Times

Ikigai: A Japanese Concept to Improve Work and Life

Emotional Intelligence: The Social Skills You Weren’t Taught in School

What Happens to Your Body When You Wake Up at 5 a.m. Every Day

The Zen Rule for Becoming Happier: Change One Thing

As a Registered Dietitian, I Can Tell You That There Absolutely Are No “Bad” Foods

The Best Ways to Handle Teen Anger, According to Psychologists

5 Strategies for Coping With Social Anxiety, According to Clinical Psychologists

Deeply Empathetic People Process Music Differently in Their Brains

People with who deeply feel the pain or happiness of others differ in the way their brains process music, according to one study. The researchers found that those with higher empathy process familiar music with greater involvement of the reward system of the brain, as well as in areas responsible for processing social information.

“High-empathy and low-empathy people share a lot in common when listening to music, including roughly equivalent involvement in the regions of the brain related to auditory, emotion, and sensory-motor processing,” said lead author Zachary Wallmark, an assistant professor in the SMU Meadows School of the Arts.

But there is at least one significant difference. Highly empathic people process familiar music with greater involvement of the brain’s social circuitry, such as the areas activated when feeling empathy for others. They also seem to experience a greater degree of pleasure in listening, as indicated by increased activation of the reward system.

“This may indicate that music is being perceived weakly as a kind of social entity, as an imagined or virtual human presence,” Wallmark said. Researchers in 2014 reported that about 20 percent of the population is highly empathic. These are people who are especially sensitive and respond strongly to social and emotional stimuli.

This SMU-UCLA study is the first to find evidence supporting a neural account of the music-empathy connection. Also, it is among the first to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore how empathy affects the way we perceive music. The  study indicates that among higher-empathy people, at least, music is not solely a form of artistic expression.

“If music was not related to how we process the social world, then we likely would have seen no significant difference in the brain activation between high-empathy and low-empathy people,” said Wallmark, who is director of the MuSci Lab at SMU, an interdisciplinary research collective that studies—among other things—how music affects the brain.

MORE: Visit This Nightingale Thicket and You’ll Hear a Musician Singing with Them – WATCH the Duets

“This tells us that over and above appreciating music as high art, music is about humans interacting with other humans and trying to understand and communicate with each other,” he said. This may seem obvious.

“But in our culture we have a whole elaborate system of music education and music thinking that treats music as a sort of disembodied object of aesthetic contemplation,” Wallmark said.

“In contrast, the results of our study help explain how music connects us to others. This could have implications for how we understand the function of music in our world, and possibly in our evolutionary past.”

The researchers reported their findings in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, in the article “Neurophysiological effects of trait empathy in music listening.”

“The study shows on one hand the power of empathy in modulating music perception, a phenomenon that reminds us of the original roots of the concept of empathy—’feeling into’ a piece of art,” said senior author Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

“On the other hand,” Iacoboni said, “the study shows the power of music in triggering the same complex social processes at work in the brain that are at play during human social interactions.”

Comparison of brain scans showed distinctive differences based on empathy

Participants were 20 UCLA undergraduate students. They were each scanned in an MRI machine while listening to excerpts of music that were either familiar or unfamiliar to them, and that they either liked or disliked. The familiar music was selected by participants prior to the scan.

Afterward each person completed a standard questionnaire to assess individual differences in empathy—for example, frequently feeling sympathy for others in distress, or imagining oneself in another’s shoes.

READ: MIT Scientists Spin Some Music Out of Spider Webs – And it Sounds Otherworldly (Listen)

The researchers then did controlled comparisons to see which areas of the brain during music listening are correlated with empathy.

Analysis of the brain scans showed that high empathizers experienced more activity in the dorsal striatum, part of the brain’s reward system, when listening to familiar music, whether they liked the music or not.

The reward system is related to pleasure and other positive emotions. Malfunction of the area can lead to addictive behaviors.

Empathic people process music with involvement of social cognitive circuitry

In addition, the brain scans of higher empathy people in the study also recorded greater activation in medial and lateral areas of the prefrontal cortex that are responsible for processing the social world, and in the temporoparietal junction, which is critical to analyzing and understanding others’ behaviors and intentions.

RELATED: That Song Stuck in Your Head is Helping the Brain With Long-Term Memory

Typically, those areas of the brain are activated when people are interacting with, or thinking about, other people. Observing their correlation with empathy during music listening might indicate that music to these listeners functions as a proxy for a human encounter.

Beyond analysis of the brain scans, the researchers also looked at purely behavioral data— answers to a survey asking the listeners to rate the music afterward. Those data also indicated that higher empathy people were more passionate in their musical likes and dislikes, such as showing a stronger preference for unfamiliar music.

Precise Neurophysiological relationship between empathy and music is largely unexplored

A large body of research has focused on the cognitive neuroscience of empathy—how we understand and experience the thoughts and emotions of other people. Studies point to a number of areas of the prefrontal, insular, and cingulate cortices as being relevant to what brain scientists refer to as social cognition.

Activation of the social circuitry in the brain varies from individual to individual. People with more empathic personalities show increased activity in those areas when performing socially relevant tasks, including watching a needle penetrating skin, listening to non-verbal vocal sounds, observing emotional facial expressions, or seeing a loved one in pain.

CHECK OUT: Americans Choose the Best Road Trip Tunes Of All Time — For Your Summer Playlist

In the field of music psychology, a number of recent studies have suggested that empathy is related to intensity of emotional responses to music, listening style, and musical preferences—for example, empathic people are more likely to enjoy sad music.

“This study contributes to a growing body of evidence,” Wallmark said, “that music processing may piggyback upon cognitive mechanisms that originally evolved to facilitate social interaction.”

Source: Deeply Empathetic People Process Music Differently in Their Brains

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More Contents:

When Meditation Makes You Generous (and When It Doesn’t)

What Helpful Rats Can Teach Us About Humanity

Seven Ways to Fight Bias in Your Everyday Life

Six Ways to Boost Your “Habits of Helping”

The Biology of Empathy

Do Mirror Neurons Give Us Empathy?

The Compassionate Species

Does Playing Music Boost Kids’ Empathy?

How to Buy Happiness (Responsibly)

The great reopening offers ample opportunity to lift your spirits if you have some money to spare. Here’s how to do it right. Bring on the nationwide spending binge. Half of all people over 18 in the United States are now fully vaccinated. Tens of millions of them are emerging, blinking in the springtime sunshine, and heading straight for restaurants, movie theaters or a flight to somewhere — or anywhere, really.

It is true that millions of people are still trying to get their hotel jobs or theater gigs back. But collectively, Americans are holding on to a larger share of their income than they have in decades.

That leftover money is a kind of kindling. We may look back on this moment as a once-in-a-lifetime period, when many millions of Americans felt that money was burning actual holes in their pockets.

It is an unfamiliar sensation for many of us. “There is a puritanical streak that runs through all aspects of money in America,” said Ramit Sethi, an author who focuses more attention than most on spending well in addition to saving intelligently. “And most of the conversations start with no.”

But we should consider the strong possibility that saying yes right now could bring a true improvement in happiness. So this column — and another one next week — will be about maximizing it through strategic spending.

The conversation begins with “Yes, and … — with perhaps with a side order of “Yes, but …” To help us all get there, I called on some of my most thoughtful contacts among people who talk, think or write about money. And I made sure to ask them this: What are you doing yourself?

Brian Thompson, a financial planner in Chicago, was prepared for this moment. He generally has two questions at the ready: What do you want to spend your money on? And why are you really spending it?

There are no wrong answers, Mr. Thompson said. “I always come from the approach that there is no judgment, and I try to come with empathy to help people clarify what the money means for them,” he said.

Paradoxically, the first thing to think about here is saving. Paulette Perhach said it better than I could here in her classic 2016 article exhorting everyone to build a freedom fund. (“Freedom” is my word — she uses an F-bomb, if you’re trying to find it via internet search.)

Savings aren’t just for when your car breaks down or you get sick. Having a freedom fund means you are not beholden to someone else — whether that’s a significant other who is treating you like garbage or a boss who is harassing you or otherwise making you miserable.

“This is about power, and power comes in a lot of different forms,” Ms. Perhach, an essayist and a writing coach, told me this week. “It comes from options. From looking at life and making sure one person does not have so much say over the outcome of your finances that you would have to tolerate behavior that goes against your own self-respect.”

Every few years, I reopen my well-worn copy of “Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending,” a book from 2013 by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, for a review session. This time, I called Professor Dunn, a member of the psychology department at the University of British Columbia, to help me along.

A first principle of research in this area has generally been that buying an experience brings more satisfaction — and less buyer’s remorse — than buying stuff. In the years since the book was published, Professor Dunn said, this conclusion has largely held up for people with more money, though it can be less true for people farther down the socioeconomic ladder.

So what types of experiences should we be making a priority?

After a year marked by loss, I adopted a narrow approach focused on things that I might not have a chance to do again. I will never attend another John Prine concert or again eat food touched by the hands of Floyd Cardoz, both of whom were among the many we lost to the pandemic.

But there are things I can do instead that aren’t likely to recur, like attending my friend’s swearing-in ceremony as police chief in another state. And I’m prioritizing a trip with my daughters to the Great Barrier Reef (using approximately 9,000 years of frequent-flier mile savings) before it is no more.

Professor Dunn endorsed my plans, and the need to get out into the world again. “The only experiences I’ve been having are Netflix and DoorDash,” she said.

Professor Dunn lost her mother, Winifred Warren, to lung cancer in September and has a plan to celebrate her someplace other than a Zoom chat. Soon, she’ll get over the border to California and dine with her aunt and her mother’s best friend at the famed French Laundry — where Ms. Warren had been hoping to go herself, once she got better.

But just because so much fun seems available again all at once, it doesn’t mean you should pursue it all simultaneously. People who have reasonably high incomes — but the proclivity to go the immediate gratification route — can rack up quite a bit of debt,” Professor Dunn said.

Indeed, credit card issuers are licking their lips in anticipation of whatever orgy of spending ensues this year. Ms. Perhach found herself impulsively buying concert tickets recently and was inspired to pen a warning about the behavioral science of overspending for Vox.

The gratification doesn’t necessarily last long — and can even be wiped out by the dread of any new debt, she said. “I’ve done trips with an undercurrent of ‘I’m about to be in trouble,’” she told me this week. “And that’s not a great recipe for fun.”

If you are among the many lucky millions who are better off financially than you were at the beginning of 2020, consider how good it might feel to give something away.

Minnie Lau has spent much of the past year helping her accounting clients in the San Francisco Bay Area spend and save the windfalls from initial public offerings and other stock winnings in as tax savvy a manner as possible. Both they and she have done quite well. They did nothing wrong and have nothing to apologize for.

But amid so much death, fear and suffering, coming out ahead still leads to conflicted feelings. “My ill-gotten gains are going to the food bank,” Ms. Lau said of the money she has made investing this year. “People should not have to line up for food. Didn’t California just announce that it had a surplus? What kind of crazy world is this?”

Everyone else I talked to this week felt a similar urge. Professor Dunn recalled being overwhelmed with gratitude after receiving her coronavirus jab. Now, she’s a monthly donor to UNICEF’s vaccine equity initiative. Ms. Perhach is supporting VONA, which helps writers of color, while Mr. Sethi busted into his emergency fund to donate to Feeding America and match his readers’ donations.

Mr. Thompson, the financial planner, has given money to help people who are both Black and transgender — a segment of the population that he believes needs more help than most. And he’s redoubling his efforts at work to reduce the racial wealth gap.

“If I can help more people build more wealth to pass down, it is a way of serving my purpose and helping people in the process,” he said. “And I think that takes more than just giving. It means systemic change.”

Ron Lieber

 

 

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/

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Critics:

Money management is the process of expense tracking, investing, budgeting, banking and evaluating taxes of one’s money which is also called investment management. Money management is a strategic technique to make money yield the highest interest-output value for any amount spent. Spending money to satisfy cravings (regardless of whether they can justifiably be included in a budget) is a natural human phenomenon.

The idea of money management techniques has been developed to reduce the amount that individuals, firms, and institutions spend on items that add no significant value to their living standards, long-term portfolios, and assets. Warren Buffett, in one of his documentaries, admonished prospective investors to embrace his highly esteemed “frugality” ideology. This involves making every financial transaction worth the expense:

1. avoid any expense that appeals to vanity or snobbery
2. always go for the most cost-effective alternative (establishing small quality-variance benchmarks, if any)
3. favor expenditures on interest-bearing items over all others
4. establish the expected benefits of every desired expenditure using the canon of plus/minus/nil to the standard of living value system.

References

How To Have a Better Longlasting Relationship

Can you spot a good relationship? Of course nobody knows what really goes on between any couple, but decades of scientific research into love, sex and relationships have taught us that a number of behaviors can predict when a couple is on solid ground or headed for troubled waters. Good relationships don’t happen overnight. They take commitment, compromise, forgiveness and most of all — effort. Keep reading for the latest in relationship science, fun quizzes and helpful tips to help you build a stronger bond with your partner.

Love and Romance

Falling in love is the easy part. The challenge for couples is how to rekindle the fires of romance from time to time and cultivate the mature, trusting love that is the hallmark of a lasting relationship.

What’s Your Love Style?

When you say “I love you,” what do you mean?

Terry Hatkoff, a California State University sociologist, has created a love scale that identifies six distinct types of love found in our closest relationships.

  • Romantic: Based on passion and sexual attraction
  • Best Friends: Fondness and deep affection
  • Logical: Practical feelings based on shared values, financial goals, religion etc.
  • Playful: Feelings evoked by flirtation or feeling challenged
  • Possessive: Jealousy and obsession
  • Unselfish: Nurturing, kindness, and sacrifice

Researchers have found that the love we feel in our most committed relationships is typically a combination of two or three different forms of love. But often, two people in the same relationship can have very different versions of how they define love. Dr. Hatkoff gives the example of a man and woman having dinner. The waiter flirts with the woman, but the husband doesn’t seem to notice, and talks about changing the oil in her car. The wife is upset her husband isn’t jealous. The husband feels his extra work isn’t appreciated.

What does this have to do with love? The man and woman each define love differently. For him, love is practical, and is best shown by supportive gestures like car maintenance. For her, love is possessive, and a jealous response by her husband makes her feel valued.

Understanding what makes your partner feel loved can help you navigate conflict and put romance back into your relationship. You and your partner can take the Love Style quiz from Dr. Hatkoff and find out how each of you defines love. If you learn your partner tends toward jealousy, make sure you notice when someone is flirting with him or her. If your partner is practical in love, notice the many small ways he or she shows love by taking care of everyday needs.

Reignite Romance

Romantic love has been called a “natural addiction” because it activates the brain’s reward center — notably the dopamine pathways associated with drug addiction, alcohol and gambling. But those same pathways are also associated with novelty, energy, focus, learning, motivation, ecstasy and craving. No wonder we feel so energized and motivated when we fall in love!

But we all know that romantic, passionate love fades a bit over time, and (we hope) matures into a more contented form of committed love. Even so, many couples long to rekindle the sparks of early courtship. But is it possible?

The relationship researcher Arthur Aron, a psychology professor who directs the Interpersonal Relationships Laboratory at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has found a way. The secret? Do something new and different — and make sure you do it together. New experiences activate the brain’s reward system, flooding it with dopamine and norepinephrine. These are the same brain circuits that are ignited in early romantic love. Whether you take a pottery class or go on a white-water rafting trip, activating your dopamine systems while you are together can help bring back the excitement you felt on your first date. In studies of couples, Dr. Aron has found that partners who regularly share new experiences report greater boosts in marital happiness than those who simply share pleasant but familiar experiences.

Diagnose Your Passion Level

The psychology professor Elaine Hatfield has suggested that the love we feel early in a relationship is different than what we feel later. Early on, love is “passionate,” meaning we have feelings of intense longing for our mate. Longer-term relationships develop “companionate love,” which can be described as a deep affection, and strong feelings of commitment and intimacy.

Where does your relationship land on the spectrum of love? The Passionate Love Scale, developed by Dr. Hatfield, of the University of Hawaii, and Susan Sprecher, a psychology and sociology professor at Illinois State University, can help you gauge the passion level of your relationship. Once you see where you stand, you can start working on injecting more passion into your partnership. Note that while the scale is widely used by relationship researchers who study love, the quiz is by no means the final word on the health of your relationship. Take it for fun and let the questions inspire you to talk to your partner about passion. After all, you never know where the conversation might lead.

How Much Sex Are You Having?

Let’s start with the good news. Committed couples really do have more sex than everyone else. Don’t believe it? While it’s true that single people can regale you with stories of crazy sexual episodes, remember that single people also go through long dry spells. A March 2017 report found that 15 percent of men and 27 percent of women reported they hadn’t had sex in the past year. And 9 percent of men and 18 percent of women say they haven’t had sex in five years. The main factors associated with a sexless life are older age and not being married. So whether you’re having committed or married sex once a week, once a month or just six times a year, the fact is that there’s still someone out there having less sex than you. And if you’re one of those people NOT having sex, this will cheer you up: Americans who are not having sex are just as happy as their sexually-active counterparts.

But Who’s Counting?

Even though most people keep their sex lives private, we do know quite a bit about people’s sex habits. The data come from a variety of sources, including the General Social Survey, which collects information on behavior in the United States, and the International Social Survey Programme, a similar study that collects international data, and additional studies from people who study sex like the famous Kinsey Institute. A recent trend is that sexual frequency is declining among millennials, likely because they are less likely than earlier generations to have steady partners.

Based on that research, here’s some of what we know about sex:

  • The average adult has sex 54 times a year.
  • The average sexual encounter lasts about 30 minutes.
  • About 5 percent of people have sex at least three times a week.
  • People in their 20s have sex more than 80 times per year.
  • People in their 40s have sex about 60 times a year.
  • Sex drops to 20 times per year by age 65.
  • After the age of 25, sexual frequency declines 3.2 percent annually.
  • After controlling for age and time period, those born in the 1930s had sex the most often; people born in the 1990s (millennials) had sex the least often.
  • About 20 percent of people, most of them widows, have been celibate for at least a year.
  • The typical married person has sex an average of 51 times a year.
  • “Very Happy” couples have sex, on average, 74 times a year.
  • Married people under 30 have sex about 112 times a year; single people under 30 have sex about 69 times a year.
  • Married people in their 40s have sex 69 times a year; single people in their 40s have sex 50 times a year.
  • Active people have more sex.
  • People who drink alcohol have 20 percent more sex than teetotalers.
  • On average, extra education is associated with about a week’s worth of less sex each year.

Early and Often

One of the best ways to make sure your sex life stays robust in a long relationship is to have a lot of sex early in the relationship. A University of Georgia study of more than 90,000 women in 19 countries in Asia, Africa and the Americas found that the longer a couple is married, the less often they have sex, but that the decline appears to be relative to how much sex they were having when they first coupled. Here’s a look at frequency of married sex comparing the first year of marriage with the 10th year of marriage.

Why does sex decline in marriage? It’s a combination of factors — sometimes it’s a health issue, the presence of children, boredom or unhappiness in the relationship. But a major factor is age. One study found sexual frequency declines 3.2 percent a year after the age of 25. The good news is that what married couples lack in quantity they make up for in quality. Data from the National Health and Social Life Survey found that married couples have more fulfilling sex than single people.

The No-Sex Marriage

Why do some couples sizzle while others fizzle? Social scientists are studying no-sex marriages for clues about what can go wrong in relationships.

It’s estimated that about 15 percent of married couples have not had sex with their spouse in the last six months to one year.  Some sexless marriages started out with very little sex. Others in sexless marriages say childbirth or an affair led to a slowing and eventually stopping of sex. People in sexless marriages are generally less happy and more likely to have considered divorce than those who have regular sex with their spouse or committed partner.

If you have a low-sex or no-sex marriage, the most important step is to see a doctor. A low sex drive can be the result of a medical issues (low testosterone, erectile dysfunction, menopause or depression) or it can be a side effect of a medication or treatment. Some scientists speculate that growing use of antidepressants like Prozac and Paxil, which can depress the sex drive, may be contributing to an increase in sexless marriages.

While some couples in sexless marriages are happy, the reality is that the more sex a couple has, the happier they are together. It’s not easy to rekindle a marriage that has gone without sex for years, but it can be done. If you can’t live in a sexless marriage but you want to stay married, see a doctor, see a therapist and start talking to your partner.

Here are some of the steps therapists recommend to get a sexless marriage back in the bedroom:

  1. Talk to each other about your desires.
  2. Have fun together and share new experiences to remind yourself how you fell in love.
  3. Hold hands. Touch. Hug.
  4. Have sex even if you don’t want to. Many couples discover that if they force themselves to have sex, soon it doesn’t become work and they remember that they like sex. The body responds with a flood of brain chemicals and other changes that can help.

Remember that there is no set point for the right amount of sex in a marriage. The right amount of sex is the amount that makes both partners happy. 

A Prescription for a Better Sex Life

If your sex life has waned, it can take time and effort to get it back on track. The best solution is relatively simple, but oh-so-difficult for many couples: Start talking about sex.

  • Just do it: Have sex, even if you’re not in the mood. Sex triggers hormonal and chemical responses in the body, and even if you’re not in the mood, chances are you will get there quickly once you start.
  • Make time for sex: Busy partners often say they are too busy for sex, but interestingly, really busy people seem to find time to have affairs. The fact is, sex is good for your relationship. Make it a priority.
  • Talk: Ask your partner what he or she wants. Surprisingly, this seems to be the biggest challenge couples face when it comes to rebooting their sex lives.

The first two suggestions are self-explanatory, but let’s take some time to explore the third step: talking to your partner about sex. Dr. Hatfield of the University of Hawaii is one of the pioneers of relationship science. She developed the Passionate Love scale we explored earlier in this guide. When Dr. Hatfield conducted a series of interviews with men and women about their sexual desires, she discovered that men and women have much more in common than they realize, they just tend not to talk about sex with each other. Here’s a simple exercise based on Dr. Hatfield’s research that could have a huge impact on your sex life:

  1. Find two pieces of paper and two pens.
  2. Now, sit down with your partner so that each of you can write down five things you want more of during sex with your partner. The answers shouldn’t be detailed sex acts (although that’s fine if it’s important to you). Ideally, your answers should focus on behaviors you desire — being talkative, romantic, tender, experimental or adventurous.

If you are like the couples in Dr. Hatfield’s research, you may discover that you have far more in common in terms of sexual desires than you realize. Here are the answers Dr. Hatfield’s couples gave.

Let’s look at what couples had in common. Both partners wanted seduction, instructions and experimentation.

The main difference for men and women is where sexual desire begins. Men wanted their wives to initiate sex more often and be less inhibited in the bedroom. But for women, behavior outside the bedroom also mattered. They wanted their partner to be warmer, helpful in their lives, and they wanted love and compliments both in and out of the bedroom.

Staying Faithful

Men and women can train themselves to protect their relationships and raise their feelings of commitment.

Can You Predict Infidelity?

In any given year about 10 percent of married people —12 percent of men and 7 percent of women — say they have had sex outside their marriage. The relatively low rates of annual cheating mask the far higher rate of lifetime cheating. Among people over 60, about one in four men and one in seven women admit they have ever cheated.

A number of studies in both animals and humans suggest that there may be a genetic component to infidelity. While science makes a compelling case that there is some genetic component to cheating, we also know that genetics are not destiny. And until there is a rapid-gene test to determine the infidelity risk of your partner, the debate about the genetics of infidelity isn’t particularly useful to anyone.

There are some personality traits known to be associated with cheating. A report in The Archives of Sexual Behavior found that two traits predicted risk for infidelity in men. Men who are easily aroused (called “propensity for sexual excitation”) and men who are overly concerned about sexual performance failure are more likely to cheat. The finding comes from a study of nearly 1,000 men and women. In the sample, 23 percent of men and 19 percent of women reported ever cheating on a partner.

For women, the main predictors of infidelity were relationship happiness (women who aren’t happy in their partnership are twice as likely to cheat) and being sexually out-of-sync with their partner (a situation that makes women three times as likely to cheat as women who feel sexually compatible with their partners).

Protect Your Relationship

1. Avoid Opportunity. In one survey, psychologists at the University of Vermont asked 349 men and women in committed relationships about sexual fantasies. Fully 98 percent of the men and 80 percent of the women reported having imagined a sexual encounter with someone other than their partner at least once in the previous two months. The longer couples were together, the more likely both partners were to report such fantasies.

But there is a big difference between fantasizing about infidelity and actually following through. The strongest risk factor for infidelity, researchers have found, exists not inside the marriage but outside: opportunity.

For years, men have typically had the most opportunities to cheat thanks to long hours at the office, business travel and control over family finances. But today, both men and women spend late hours at the office and travel on business. And even for women who stay home, cellphones, e-mail and instant messaging appear to be allowing them to form more intimate relationships outside of their marriages. As a result, your best chance at fidelity is to limit opportunities that might allow you to stray. Committed men and women avoid situations that could lead to bad decisions — like hotel bars and late nights with colleagues.

2. Plan Ahead for Temptation. Men and women can develop coping strategies to stay faithful to a partner.

A series of unusual studies led by John Lydon, a psychologist at McGill University in Montreal, looked at how people in a committed relationship react in the face of temptation. In one study, highly committed married men and women were asked to rate the attractiveness of people of the opposite sex in a series of photos. Not surprisingly, they gave the highest ratings to people who would typically be viewed as attractive.

Later, they were shown similar pictures and told that the person was interested in meeting them. In that situation, participants consistently gave those pictures lower scores than they had the first time around.

When they were attracted to someone who might threaten the relationship, they seemed to instinctively tell themselves, “He’s not so great.” “The more committed you are,” Dr. Lydon said, “the less attractive you find other people who threaten your relationship.”

Other McGill studies confirmed differences in how men and women react to such threats. In one, attractive actors or actresses were brought in to flirt with study participants in a waiting room. Later, the participants were asked questions about their relationships, particularly how they

would respond to a partner’s bad behavior, like being late and forgetting to call.

Men who had just been flirting were less forgiving of the hypothetical bad behavior, suggesting that the attractive actress had momentarily chipped away at their commitment. But women who had been flirting were more likely to be forgiving and to make excuses for the man, suggesting that their earlier flirting had triggered a protective response when discussing their relationship.

“We think the men in these studies may have had commitment, but the women had the contingency plan — the attractive alternative sets off the alarm bell,” Dr. Lydon said. “Women implicitly code that as a threat. Men don’t.”

The study also looked at whether a person can be trained to resist temptation. The team prompted male students who were in committed dating relationships to imagine running into an attractive woman on a weekend when their girlfriends were away. Some of the men were then asked to develop a contingency plan by filling in the sentence “When she approaches me, I will __________ to protect my relationship.”

Because the researchers ethically could not bring in a real woman to act as a temptation, they created a virtual-reality game in which two out of four rooms included subliminal images of an attractive woman. Most of the men who had practiced resisting temptation stayed away from the rooms with attractive women; but among men who had not practiced resistance, two out of three gravitated toward the temptation room.

Of course, it’s a lab study, and doesn’t really tell us what might happen in the real world with a real woman or man tempting you to stray from your relationship. But if you worry you might be vulnerable to temptation on a business trip, practice resistance by reminding yourself the steps you will take to avoid temptation and protect your relationship.

3. Picture Your Beloved. We all know that sometimes the more you try to resist something — like ice cream or a cigarette — the more you crave it. Relationship researchers say the same principle can influence a person who sees a man or woman who is interested in them. The more you think about resisting the person, the more tempting he or she becomes. Rather than telling yourself “Be good. Resist,” the better strategy is to start thinking about the person you love, how much they mean to you and what they add to your life. Focus on loving thoughts and the joy of your family, not sexual desire for your spouse — the goal here is to damp down the sex drive, not wake it up.

4. Keep Your Relationship Interesting. Scientists speculate that your level of commitment may depend on how much a partner enhances your life and broadens your horizons — a concept that Dr. Aron, the Stony Brook psychology professor, calls “self-expansion.”

To measure this quality, couples are asked a series of questions: How much does your partner provide a source of exciting experiences? How much has knowing your partner made you a better person? How much do you see your partner as a way to expand your own capabilities?

The Stony Brook researchers conducted experiments using activities that stimulated self-expansion. Some couples were given mundane tasks, while others took part in a silly exercise in which they were tied together and asked to crawl on mats, pushing a foam cylinder with their heads. The study was rigged so the couples failed the time limit on the first two tries, but just barely made it on the third, resulting in much celebration.

Couples were given relationship tests before and after the experiment. Those who had taken part in the challenging activity posted greater increases in love and relationship satisfaction than those who had not experienced victory together.The researchers theorize that couples who explore new places and try new things will tap into feelings of self-expansion, lifting their level of commitment.

Conflict

Every couple has disagreements, but science shows that how two people argue has a big effect on both their relationships and their health.

How to Fight

Many people try their best to avoid conflict, but relationship researchers say every conflict presents an opportunity to improve a relationship. The key is to learn to fight constructively in a way that leaves you feeling better about your partner.

Marriage researcher John Gottman has built an entire career out of studying how couples interact. He learned that even in a laboratory setting, couples are willing to air their disagreements even when scientists are watching and the cameras are rolling. From that research, he developed a system of coding words and gestures that has been shown to be highly predictive of a couple’s chance of success or risk for divorce or breakup.

In one important study, Dr. Gottman and his colleagues observed newly married couples in the midst of an argument. He learned that the topic didn’t matter, nor did the duration of the fight. What was most predictive of the couple’s marital health? The researchers found that analyzing just the first three minutes of the couple’s argument could predict their risk for divorce over the next six years.

In many ways, this is great news for couples because it gives you a place to focus. The most important moments between you and your partner during a conflict are those first few minutes when the fight is just getting started. Focus on your behavior during that time, and it likely will change the dynamics of your relationship for the better.

Here’s some general advice from the research about how to start a fight with the person you love:

Identify the complaint, not the criticism. If you’re upset about housework, don’t start the fight by criticizing your partner with, “You never help me.” Focus on the complaint and what will make it better. “It’s so tough when I work late on Thursdays to come home to dishes and unbathed kids. Do you think you could find a way to help more on those nights?”

Avoid “you” phrases. Phrases like “You always” and “You never” are almost always followed by criticism and blame.

Think about pronouns. Sentence that start with “I” or “We” help you identify problems and solutions, rather than putting blame on someone else.

Be aware of body language. No eye-rolling, which is a sign of contempt. Look at your partner when you speak. No folded arms or crossed legs to show you are open to their feelings and input. Sit or stand at the same level as your partner — one person should not be looking down or looking up during an argument.

Learn to De-escalate: When the argument starts getting heated, take it upon yourself to calm things down. Here are some phrases that are always useful in de-escalation:

  • “What if we…”
  • “I know this is hard…”
  • “I hear what you’re saying…”
  • “What do you think?”

Dr. Gottman reminds us that fighting with your partner is not a bad thing.After all his years of studying conflict, Dr. Gottman has said he’s a strong believe in the power of argument to help couples improve their relationship. In fact, airing our differences gives our relationship “real staying power,” he says. You just need to make sure you get the beginning right so the discussion can be constructive instead of damaging. 

Why Couples Fight

A famous study of cardiovascular health conducted in Framingham, Mass., happened to ask its 4,000 participants what topics were most likely to cause conflict in their relationship. Women said issues involving children, housework and money created the most problems in their relationships. Men said their arguments with their spouse usually focused on sex, money and leisure time. Even though the lists were slightly different, the reality is that men and women really care about the same issues: money, how they spend their time away from work (housework or leisure) and balancing the demands of family life (children and sex).

Money

Sometimes money problems become marriage problems.

Studies show that money is consistently the most common reason for conflict in a relationship. Couples with financial problems and debt create have higher levels of stress and are less happy in their relationship.

Why does money cause conflict? Fights about money ultimately are not really about finances. They are about a couple’s values and shared goals. A person who overspends on restaurants, travel and fun stuff often wants to live in the moment and seek new adventures and change; a saver hoping to buy a house some day may most value stability, family and community. Money conflict can be a barometer for the health of your relationship and an indicator that the two of you are out of sync on some of your most fundamental values.

David Olson, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, studied 21,000 couples and identified five questions you can ask to find out if you are financially compatible with your partner.

  1. We agree on how to spend money.
  2. I don’t have any concerns about how my partner handles money.
  3. I am satisfied with our decisions about savings.
  4. Major debts are not a problem
  5. Making financial decisions is not difficult.

Dr. Olson found that the happiest couples were those who both agreed with at least four of the statements. He also found that couples who did not see eye to eye on three or more of the statements were more likely to score low on overall marital happiness. Debt tends to be the biggest culprit in marital conflict. It can be an overwhelming source of worry and stress. As a result, couples who can focus on money problems and reduce their debt may discover that they have also solved most of their marital problems.

Here’s some parting advice for managing your money and your relationship:

Be honest about your spending: It’s surprisingly common for two people in a relationship to lie about how they spend their money, usually because they know it’s a sore point for their partner. Researchers call it “financial infidelity,” and when it’s discovered, it represents a serious breach of trust in the relationship. Surveys suggest secret spending occurs in one out of three committed relationships. Shopping for clothes, spending money on a hobby and gambling are the three most-cited types of secret spending that causes conflict in a relationship.

Maintain some financial independence: While two people in a relationship need to be honest with each other about how they spend their money, it’s a good idea for both sides to agree that each person has his or her own discretionary pot of money to spend on whatever they want. Whether it’s a regular manicure, clothes shopping, a great bottle of wine or a fancy new bike — the point is that just because you have different priorities as a family doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally feed your personal indulgences. The key is to agree on the amount of discretionary money you each have and then stay quiet when your partner buys the newest iPhone just because.

Invest in the relationship. When you do have money to spend, spend it on the relationship. Take a trip, go to dinner, see a show. Spending money on new and shared experiences is a good investment in your partnership.

Children

One of the more uncomfortable findings of relationship science is the negative effect children can have on previously happy couples. Despite the popular notion that children bring couples closer, several studies have shown that relationship satisfaction and happiness typically plummet with the arrival of the first baby.

One study from the University of Nebraska College of Nursing looked at marital happiness in 185 men and women. Scores declined starting in pregnancy, and remained lower as the children reached 5 months and 24 months. Other studies show that couples with two children score even lower than couples with one child.

While having a child clearly makes parents happy, the financial and time constraints can add stress to a relationship. After the birth of a child, couples have only about one-third the time alone together as they had when they were childless, according to researchers from Ohio State.

Here’s the good news: A minority of couples with children — about 20 percent — manage to stay happy in their relationships despite the kids.

What’s their secret? Top three predictors of a happy marriage among parents

  1. Sexual Intimacy
  2. Commitment
  3. Generosity

So there you have it. The secret to surviving parenthood is to have lots of sex, be faithful and be generous toward your partner. In this case, generosity isn’t financial — it’s about the sharing, caring and kind gestures you make toward your partner every day. When you are trying to survive the chaos of raising kids, it’s the little things — like bringing your partner coffee, offering to pick up the dry cleaning or do the dishes, that can make all the difference in the health of your relationship.

Make It Last

Here are some suggestions for how to strengthen your relationship based on the findings of various studies.

Stay Generous

Are you generous toward your partner? How often do you express affection? Or do small things for your partner like bring them coffee? Men and women who score the highest on the generosity scale are far more likely to report “very happy” marriages, according to research from the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project.

Use Your Relationship for Personal Growth

Finding a partner who makes your life more interesting is an important factor in sustaining a long relationship.

Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., a professor at Monmouth University in New Jersey, developed a series of questions for couples: How much has being with your partner resulted in your learning new things? How much has knowing your partner made you a better person?

“People have a fundamental motivation to improve the self and add to who they are as a person,” Dr. Lewandowski says. “If your partner is helping you become a better person, you become happier and more satisfied in the relationship.”

Be Decisive

How thoughtfully couples make decisions can have a lasting effect on the quality of their romantic relationships. Couples who are decisive before marriage — intentionally defining their relationships, living together and planning a wedding — appear to have better marriages than couples who simply let inertia carry them through major transitions.

“Making decisions and talking things through with partners is important,” said Galena K. Rhoades, a relationship researcher at the University of Denver and co-author of the report. “When you make an intentional decision, you are more likely to follow through on that.”

While the finding may seem obvious, the reality is that many couples avoid real decision-making. Many couples living together, for instance, did not sit down and talk about cohabitation. Often one partner had begun spending more time at the other’s home, or a lease expired, forcing the couple to formalize a living arrangement.

Showing intent in some form — from planning the first date, to living together, to the wedding and beyond — can help improve the quality of a marriage over all. To learn more, read about the science behind “The Decisive Marriage.”

“At the individual level, know who you are and what you are about, and make decisions when it counts rather than letting things slide,” Dr. Stanley said. “Once you are a couple, do the same thing in terms of how you approach major transitions in your relationship.”

Nurture Friends and Family

Sometimes couples become so focused on the relationship that they forget to invest in their relationships with friends and family. Researchers Naomi Gerstel of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Natalia Sarkisian of Boston College have found that married couples have fewer ties to relatives than the unmarried. They are less likely to visit, call or help out family members, and less likely to socialize with neighbors and friends.

The problem with this trend is that it places an unreasonable burden and strain on the marriage, says Stephanie Coontz, who teaches history and family studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. “We often overload marriage by asking our partner to satisfy more needs than any one individual can possibly meet,” writes Dr. Coontz. “And if our marriage falters, we have few emotional support systems to fall back on.

To strengthen a marriage, consider asking less of it, suggests Dr. Coontz. That means leaning on other family members and friends for emotional support from time to time. Support your partner’s outside friendships and enjoy the respite from the demands of marriage when you’re not together.

See a Rom-Com

It sounds silly, but research suggests that seeing a sappy relationship movie made in Hollywood can help couples work out problems in the real world. A University of Rochester study found that couples who watched and talked about issues raised in movies like “Steel Magnolias” and “Love Story” were less likely to divorce or separate than couples in a control group. Surprisingly, the “Love Story” intervention was as effective at keeping couples together as two intensive forms of marriage therapy. 

Obviously, talking about a movie is not going to solve significant problems in a marriage, but the findings do signal the importance of communication in a marriage and finding opportunities to talk about your differences. “A movie is a nonthreatening way to get the conversation started,” said Ronald D. Rogge, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and the lead author of the study.

The best movies to start constructive communication are those that show various highs and lows in a relationship. Additional movies used in the study include “Couples Retreat,” “Date Night,” “Love and Other Drugs” and “She’s Having a Baby.” Avoid movies that idealize relationships like “Sleepless in Seattle” or “When Harry Met Sally.”

Even though some of the recommended movies are funny and not necessarily realistic, the goal is to simply “get a dialogue going,” said Dr. Rogge.

“I believe it’s the depth of the discussions that follow each movie and how much effort and time and introspection couples put into those discussions that will predict how well they do going forward,” said Dr. Rogge.

By Tara Parker-Pope

Tara Parker-Pope is the founding editor of Well, an award-winning consumer health site with news and features to help readers live well every day. She is also the author of “For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage.”

Twitter: @nytimeswell

Source: How to Have a Better Relationship – Well Guides – The New York Times

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Critics:

There is empirical evidence of the causal impact of social relationships on health. The social support theory suggests that relationships might promote health especially by promoting adaptive behavior or regulating the stress response. Troubled relationships as well as loneliness and social exclusion may have negative consequences on health. Neurosciences of health investigate the neuronal circuits implicated in the context of both social connection and disconnection.

Poor relationships have a negative impact on health outcomes. In 1985, Cohen and Wills presented two models that have been employed to describe this connection: the main effect model and the stress-buffering model.

The main effect model postulates that our social networks influence our psychology (our affect) and our physiology (biological responses). These three variables are thought to influence health, as described in Figure 1. This model predicts that increasing social networks enhance general health. A possible mechanism by which social networks improve our health is through our behaviors: if our social network influences us to behave in a certain way that enhances our health, then it can be argued that our social network influences our health.

For example, it has been demonstrated that higher social support improves our level of physical activity, which in turn has a positive effect on our health. It is unclear if this effect of social support is a threshold or a gradient. The difference between the two of them is that a threshold effect is a necessary amount of social support required to have a positive effect on health. On the opposite, a gradient effect can be described as a linear effect of the amount of social support on health, meaning that an increase of x amount of social support will result in an increase of y level of health.

There is evidence that social integration is negatively linked to suicide and marital status is negatively linked to mortality rates from all-causes.Hibbard (1985) explored the link between social ties and health status by conducting a series of household surveys. Indeed, she found that people who have more social ties, more perception of control, and are most trustful with others tend to have better physical health. Thoits investigated how social ties can improve both mental and physical health.

The results showed that social ties might influence emotional sustenance and promote active coping assistance. The other significant point of this research is that we can define two types of “supporters” able to provide different types of social support. Significant others (i.e., family, friends, spouse, etc.) tend to provide more instrumental support and emotional sustaining whereas experientially similar others (i.e., people who experienced the same life events than us) tend to provide more empathy, “role model” (a similar person looked like a model, a person to imitate) and active coping assistance.

Furthermore, social support can help us to regulate emotions above all when we are facing a stressful event. Probably one of the most famous studies on this field of investigation was conducted by Coan, Schaefer, and Davidson. In their study, they told married couples to go together in the laboratory. All couples reported a high level of marital satisfaction. The study aimed to evaluate the effect of handholding on the neural response to a threat. To create a stressful event, they informed the woman participant of each couple that she will receive moderate electric shocks.

There were three experimental conditions: no handholding, stranger handholding, or spouse handholding. The findings suggested that both spouse and stranger hand holding attenuated neural response to the threat, but spousal handholding was particularly efficient. Moreover, even within this sample of married couples with high satisfaction levels, the benefits of spousal handholding under threat were even more important in those couples who have reported the highest quality of marital relationship.

References

How Much Money Is ‘Enough’? Try This Experiment to Get an Exact Number to Aim For

a wad of money secured with a blue paper clip on a pink background

Have you ever read those articles where some extremely well-off family details their budget and then bemoans that they’re barely getting by?

It’s ridiculous that anyone could complain about raking in $350,000 a year, and it’s clear many of these folks are wildly out of touch with how privileged they are. But while these families may be extreme (and annoying), they aren’t alone. It’s not just the wealthy who fall into the trap of earning more only to spend more and feel just as dissatisfied.

How do you get off this treadmill?

The answer is not to compare yourself with others (Jeff Bezos will always be there to make you feel bad), or to blindly try to keep making more (there will always be some shiny, new thing to covet). The answer is to take a hard look at your own financial realities and aspirations and come up with a goal number. How much money is enough for you?


The Science of Money and Happiness

That number will be different for everyone, depending on your circumstances and values, but science can give us some sense of how much money might be “enough.” Research shows that up to a certain threshold (studies consistently put it at about $75,000 dollars a year, give or take a bit depending on cost of living) money has a big impact on both day-to-day happiness and life satisfaction.

If you’re below this level, making more will likely make you significantly happier. But beyond that point, each additional dollar adds a little less to your life. There is a level of wealth way before Bill Gates status that trading more effort and time for more money ceases to make sense (even Bill Gates says so).


Name Your Number

One way to calculate that point is to figure out how much money you’d need to make decisions based entirely on enjoyment and impact, without pressure to earn. This is the goal of the catchily named FIRE movement (for financial independence, retire early). Its boosters generally say that 25X your expected annual expenses is enough. So if $50,000 a year is enough for you to live comfortably, you need to save $1.25 million.

There are other more elaborate calculators that can give you a sense of what financial independence means for you. But perhaps the best way to get a feeling for your goal number isn’t math but a simple thought experiment from writer Brad Stollery:

Suppose you’re one of five people who have been selected by a mysterious philanthropist to participate in a contest. The five of you all have comparable debt-levels and costs-of-living, as well as similar, middle-class financial situations. You’re all roughly the same age, equally healthy, have the same number of children, and you all live moderately low-risk lifestyles. Privately, and one by one, a representative of the donor approaches each of you with a blank check and a pen, and poses the following question:

How much money would you have to be paid, right here and now, to retire today and never receive another dollar of income (from any source) for the rest of your life?

The catch this time is that whoever among the five players writes the lowest amount on the check will be paid that sum. The other four players will get nothing.

This thought experiment forces you to cut away the natural impulse to aim ever upward (if you do that you’ll bid too high and get nothing). That result is however much you ask for is your number, the amount you’d need to live comfortably and pursue your goals if status and lifestyle inflation weren’t a factor.

Your answer might be a little bit higher or lower than mine or your neighbor’s. That’s fine. It’s not important everyone agree on a number. The important thing is that we each reflect enough to have one.

Because the alternative is being one of those people confessing online how you burn through a healthy six-figure salary and still feel stressed and dissatisfied. Your expenses and desires can be infinite. If you don’t want to chase them miserably forever, you need to put a cap on your financial ambitions yourself.

By: Jessica Stillman

This post originally appeared on Inc. and was published February 5, 2020. This article is republished here with permission.

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Source: Pocket

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References

Don’t Wish for Happiness. Work for It

In his 1851 work American Notebooks, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, “Happiness in this world, when it comes, comes incidentally. Make it the object of pursuit, and it leads us a wild-goose chase, and is never attained.” This is basically a restatement of the Stoic philosophers’ “paradox of happiness”: To attain happiness, we must not try to attain it.

A number of scholars have set out to test this claim. For example, researchers writing in the journal Emotion in 2011 found that valuing happiness was associated with lower moods, less well-being, and more depressive symptoms under conditions of low life stress. At first, this would seem to support the happiness paradox—that thinking about it makes it harder to get. But there are alternative explanations. For example, unhappy people might say they “value happiness” more than those who already possess it, just as hungry people value food more than those who are full.

More to the point, wishing you were happier does not mean that you are working to improve your happiness. Think of your friend who complains about her job every day but never tries to find a new one. No doubt she wishes she were happier—but for whatever reason, she doesn’t do the work to improve her circumstances. This is not evidence that she can’t become happier, or that her wishes are bringing her down.

In truth, happiness requires effort, not just desire. Focusing on your dissatisfaction and wishing things were different in your life is a recipe for unhappiness if you don’t take action to put yourself on a better path. But if you make an effort to understand human happiness, formulate a plan to apply what you learn to your life, execute on it, and share what you learn with others, happiness will almost surely follow.

In contrast, self-awareness—to be attentive to our own thinking processes—leads to new knowledge and breakthroughs. One recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that self-awareness allows us to recognize emotional cues and distractions and to redirect our minds in productive ways. In essence, studying your own mind and pondering ways to improve your happiness takes inchoate anxieties and mental meandering and transforms them into real plans for life improvement.

Rumination is to be stuck; self-reflection is to seek to be unstuck. The trick, of course, is telling the difference. Say you have just experienced a breakup. If you go over the painful circumstances again and again, like watching a looped video for hours and days, this is rumination. To break out of the cycle and begin the process of self-reflection, you’d have to follow the painful memory with insightful questions. For example: “Is this a recurring pattern in my life? If so, why?” “If I could do it over again, what would I do differently?” “What can I read to help inform me more about what I have just experienced and use it constructively?”

Self-reflection moves feelings of unhappiness from our reactive brains to our executive brains, where we can manage them through concrete action. The action itself is crucial. There is an old joke about a man who asks God every day to let him win the lottery. After many years of this prayer, he finally gets an answer from heaven: “Do me a favor,” says God. “Buy a ticket.” If you want happiness, reflecting on why you don’t have it and seeking information on how to attain it is a good start. But if you don’t use that information, you’re not buying a ticket.

Easier said than done, I realize. When we are happy, we are primed for action; unhappiness often makes us want to cocoon. The way to fight this is to do the opposite of what you want to do: When you’re unhappy, don’t curl up and watch a sad movie. Exercise, call a friend in need, and read up on happiness instead. You will be reprogrammed for action.

Once you’ve reflected (not ruminated), learned, taken action, and reaped the happy rewards, it’s time to make sure the benefits are not temporary—that you don’t fall back into simply wishing. The key is sharing your new knowledge with other people.

Teaching arithmetic problems to others has been shown to improve people’s ability to solve them, and in my experience, the same is true for the study of happiness: Sharing knowledge cements it in your own mind. One of the most important assignments I give my graduate students is for them to talk about the science and art of happiness at every party they go to. This ensures that they have the ideas clear enough in their heads to explain them to others. (It also makes them more popular.)

Further, when we share knowledge about how to become happier, we persuade ourselves every bit as much as we do others. It is a well-known phenomenon in psychology that asking people to argue in favor of something can be a great way to get them to believe it. Sharing the secrets to happiness will also make you happier, because doing so is an act of love. And as we have all learned, love is generative: The more you give it, the more of it you get.

I tremble at the thought of contradicting Hawthorne and the Stoics. But it is not true that pursuing happiness must lead to a “wild-goose chase,” or that thinking about happiness makes it more elusive. Like everything else in life that is worthwhile, pursuing happiness requires intellectual energy and real effort. You simply have to do the work. The good news is that the work will be joyful, and the results quite wonderful.

By: Arthur C. Brooks
Arthur C. Brooks is a contributing writer at The Atlantic, the William Henry Bloomberg professor of the practice of public leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, a professor of management practice at the Harvard Business School, and host of the podcast The Art of Happiness With Arthur Brooks.

Source: How to Have a Happiness Breakthrough – The Atlantic

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Related Links:

At What Age Are People Usually Happiest? New Research Offers Surprising Clues

If you could be one age for the rest of your life, what would it be? Would you choose to be nine years old, absolved of life’s most tedious responsibilities, and instead able to spend your days playing with friends and practicing your times tables?

Or would you choose your early 20s, when time feels endless and the world is your oyster – with friends, travel, pubs and clubs beckoning? Western culture idealizes youth, so it may come as a surprise to learn that in a recent poll asking this question, the most popular answer wasn’t 9 or 23, but 36.

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Yet as a developmental psychologist, I thought that response made a lot of sense. For the last four years, I’ve been studying people’s experiences of their 30s and early 40s, and my research has led me to believe that this stage of life – while full of challenges – is much more rewarding than most might think.

The career and care crunch

When I was a researcher in my late 30s, I wanted to read more about the age period I was in. That was when I realized that no one was doing research on people in their 30s and early 40s, which puzzled me. So much often happens during this time: Buying homes, getting married or getting divorced; building careers, changing careers, having children or choosing not to have children.

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“Can you guess? When you ask people when they were the happiest, chances are they get nostalgic and reflect back to their childhood. After all, that’s when we were living free of all responsibilities — I mean really, bills? What the hell are those? Not to mention, other people were tending to our needs while our only “job” was to play, learn, then nap (all on repeat). But shockingly, data has proven popular opinion to be inaccurate, showing that our happiness tends to grow as we get older!

Read more here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04… Cenk Uygur (http://www.twitter.com/cenkuygur) and Ana Kasparian (http://www.twitter.com/AnaKasparian) break it down on The Young Turks.

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To study something, it helps to name it. So my colleagues and I named the period from ages 30 to 45 “established adulthood,” and then set out to try to understand it better. While we are still collecting data, we have currently interviewed over 100 people in this age cohort, and have collected survey data from more than 600 additional people.

We went into this large-scale project expecting to find that established adults were happy but struggling. We thought there would be rewards during this period of life – perhaps being settled in career, family and friendships, or peaking physically and cognitively – but also some significant challenges.

The main challenge we anticipated was what we called “the career and care crunch.”

This refers to the collision of workplace demands and demands of caring for others that takes place in your 30s and early 40s. Trying to climb a ladder in a chosen career while also being increasingly expected to care for kids, tend to the needs of partners and perhaps care for aging parents can create a lot of stress and work.

Yet when we started to look at our data, what we found surprised us.

Yes, people were feeling overwhelmed and talked about having too much to do in too little time. But they also talked about feeling profoundly satisfied. All of these things that were bringing them stress were also bringing them joy.

For example, Yuying, 44, said “even though there are complicated points of this time period, I feel very solidly happy in this space right now.” Nina, 39, simply described herself as being “wildly happy.” (The names used in this piece are pseudonyms, as required by research protocol.)

When we took an even closer look at our data, it started to become clear why people might wish to remain age 36 over any other age. People talked about being in the prime of their lives and feeling at their peak. After years of working to develop careers and relationships, people reported feeling as though they had finally arrived.

Mark, 36, shared that, at least for him, “things feel more in place.” “I’ve put together a machine that’s finally got all the parts it needs,” he said.

A sigh of relief after the tumultuous 20s

As well as feeling as though they had accumulated the careers, relationships and general life skills they had been working toward since their 20s, people also said they had greater self-confidence and understood themselves better.

Jodie, 36, appreciated the wisdom she had gained as she reflected on life beyond her 20s:

“Now you’ve got a solid decade of life experience. And what you discover about yourself in your 20s isn’t necessarily that what you wanted was wrong. It’s just you have the opportunity to figure out what you don’t want and what’s not going to work for you. … So you go into your 30s, and you don’t waste a bunch of time going on half dozen dates with somebody that’s probably not really going to work out, because you’ve dated before and you have that confidence and that self-assuredness to be like, ‘hey, thanks but no thanks.’ Your friend circle becomes a lot closer because you weed out the people that you just don’t need in your life that bring drama.”

Most established adults we interviewed seemed to recognize that they were happier in their 30s than they were in their 20s, and this impacted how they thought about some of the signs of physical aging that they were starting to encounter. For example, Lisa, 37, said, “If I could go back physically but I had to also go back emotionally and mentally … no way. I would take flabby skin lines every day.”

Not ideal for everyone

Our research should be viewed with some caveats.

The interviews were primarily conducted with middle-class North Americans, and many of the participants are white. For those who are working class, or for those who have had to reckon with decades of systemic racism, established adulthood may not be so rosy.

It is also worth noting that the career and care crunch has been exacerbated, especially for women, by the COVID-19 pandemic. For this reason, the pandemic may be leading to a decrease in life satisfaction, especially for established adults who are parents trying to navigate full-time careers and full-time child care.

[You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can get our highlights each weekend.]

At the same time, that people think of their 30s – and not their 20s or their teens – as the sweet spot in their lives to which they’d like to return suggests that this is a period of life that we should pay more attention to.

And this is slowly happening. Along with my own work is an excellent book recently written by Kayleen Shaefer, “But You’re Still So Young,” that explores people navigating their 30s. In her book she tells stories of changing career paths, navigating relationships and dealing with fertility.

My colleagues and I hope that our work and Shaefer’s book are just the beginning. Having a better understanding of the challenges and rewards of established adulthood will give society more tools to support people during that period, ensuring that this golden age provides not only memories that we will fondly look back upon, but also a solid foundation for the rest of our lives.

 

By:

Source: At what age are people usually happiest? New research offers surprising clues

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Related Links:

  1. Quill’s blog

    You’re already here, so why not stay a while? My fellow contributors have great perspectives and tips on everything from developing a more efficient workflow to working toward a healthy lifestyle. A few of my favorite posts include tips on how to build the perfect break room, the right way to celebrate birthdays in the office, finding a balance between work and travel, and adding a little fun to the work day with weekly or monthly contests.

  2. Happsters.com

    These weekly happiness challenges are so fun and easy to take part in, and new quotes and shareable images are posted often. I’m always inspired when I see one of these posts appear in my feed or when I pull it up on any given morning.

    9 Happy Facts That Will Make You Smile is a great place to start, too. It sort of reminds me of this daily desktop calendar that has fun facts and graphics.

  3. GrowingBolder.com

    Full disclosure: I work for Growing Bolder as an Executive Producer. My job is to find inspirational stories, people and events and share them with you. Seriously, I get paid to find awesome stuff.

    We shine the spotlight on people who are making a difference, surviving disease and thriving in the aftermath – and proving that it’s not about age but attitude.

  4. GretchenRubin.com

    Gretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project. She has so many great ways to look at life – even the bad days – and find reasons to stay hopeful.

    Don’t be afraid to look for small things. Sometimes we get so overwhelmed at big moments and projects that we forget that something as simple as brightly colored sticky notes or a family photo in a beautiful frame. They’re small things, but they’re also bright spots worth taking a moment to appreciate.

  5. Calm.com

    Sometimes you just need to have some “ommmmm” in your life, right? Calm.com is a mindfulness app, but even if you don’t download it, you can just go to the homepage and see beautiful photos and listen to the sounds of nature.

    Take some time to meditate (bonus points if you brew up some green tea to make the experience even more immersive) and then get back to work. I promise, you’ll feel energized and more focused.

  6. CuteRoulette.com

    Who doesn’t love puppies and hedgehogs? Cute Roulette allows you to click one button and watch a rotating cast of animals – from fluffy to fierce – and have a brief moment of pure happiness. (Speaking of puppies, I must order this dog print for my home office. I love the colors!)

    Also, I have to give Cute Overload a bonus mention. While it is no longer updated, the archives are still available and provide so many reasons to smile.

  7. Happier.com

    This website says its mission is to “celebrate the good around you”, and it even features some scientific reasons that getting happy makes you a better and more efficient person!

    Following the “look around you” theme, remember that kind words and appreciation go a long way. Why not find a coworker or office colleague and give them a handwritten thank-you card for something awesome they’ve done recently? It only takes a moment and it will make both of you feel more cheery.

  8. 1000AwesomeThings.com

    Neil Pasricha started his website while going through an enormously difficult time in his personal life. He just wanted to find and document the things that made him smile. That led to 1,000 straight days of posts, a best-selling book and a movement that helped people around the world find some awesome!

    You can still read all of his items and I highly recommend using this as an inspiration to start your own list (this simple notebook is a great one to keep handy for your daily notes.)

  9. StoryCorps.org

    I have been listening to StoryCorps for years and it always makes me laugh, cry and think. The sad stories make me appreciate my life and the funny stories lighten any bad mood.

    I think it would make for a great lunchtime group listening session, but if your colleagues prefer a quieter environment, plug in your headphones and immerse yourself in inspiration.

 

 

For Happiness In Tough Times, Be More Grateful

Young beautiful African American afro woman with curly hair wearing casual sweater smiling with hands on chest with closed eyes and grateful gesture on face.

These uplifting findings offer routes to business success, as well as individual well being. If we accept gratitude increases happiness, we also know joyful people are more curious, creative, and resilient. Great qualities to possess in a challenging and disrupted post-pandemic world.

Turning Up The Happiness Dial 

The evidence is relatively new. However, great thinkers have long identified gratitude as a desirable trait of an emotionally mature mind. The Roman statesman Marcus Cicero described it as the greatest virtue – and a parent to all the other beneficial qualities. The eighteenth-century philosopher David Hume called ingratitude “the most horrible and unnatural crime that a person is capable of committing”.

In King Lear, Shakespeare has his eponymous hero angrily accuse his ungrateful daughter Goneril of being a “marble-hearted fiend”. No surprise that most of us have parents who insisted on “thank yous” like marine corps drill instructors.

Psychologists call your personal level of day-to-day happiness your “set point”. We all inherit an individual benchmark for cheerfulness rooted in our genes and upbringing. It’s long been argued that this setting is stubbornly stable over time. Research shows, whether you win the lottery, or are paralyzed from the neck down, you tend to gravitate back to your set point after three to six months.

If you doubt this, next time you board a flight (those times are returning), glance at the faces of people sitting in the comfy business class seats. Do they look any more contented? Mostly, you’ll find their faces reveal the same level of happiness as the less fortunate trudging towards coach.

Positive Psychology researchers now suggest certain habits can shift your happiness set point in the right direction. There’s a healthy debate about how big the effect can be. However, one point has been agreed upon. Gratitude is one of the few intentional human emotions which has a sustainable impact. Here are three simple, but powerful ways, to move your happiness dial upwards, and keep it there.

1. Count Your Blessings  

Writing down three new things that you’re grateful for starts to change the physical structure of your brain. Researchers have shown the impact builds after about three weeks of this daily activity. American psychologist Sean Anchor, the author of The Happiness Advantage, said: “…at the end of that, their brain starts to retain a pattern of scanning the world not for the negative, but for the positive first.”

2. Send a Grateful Email 

Another route is to consciously express gratitude to the people in your life. In my leadership programs, we ask participants to pick three people and write a short story about them in the form of an email. The idea is to describe a time when that person helped.

Professor Dan Cable, the author of Exceptional: Build Your Personal Highlight Reel and Unlock Your Potential, advises: “It’s important that the email story has a beginning, middle, and an end. I encourage people to include gritty, specific elements of the event which helps the person receiving the email to relive the memory when they read it.”

When senior executives pluck up the courage to write their emails, Dan and I find a wonderfully rewarding dynamic plays out. Within hours or days, the managers often get an email back. They receive a similarly grateful story in return from their delighted friend, colleague, or family member.

If you are nervous about sharing a grateful story, there is a fascinating facet of the research that is encouraging. It turns out it’s worth writing the story even if you don’t subsequently press send on the email. The evidence shows that people who create the narratives but decide to keep them to themselves, still enjoy the uplifting benefits. Although, of course, their friends do not.

This habit of being more explicitly grateful in writing or face-to-face has a snowball effect. Researchers found the improvements in mental health increase after 12 weeks of the habit. This is exciting because the mental health benefits of other positive activities often decrease over time.

3. Meditate, Gratefully   

Coronavirus has transformed mindfulness – the ability to focus on the present moment without judgment – from a management fad into an essential business tool. It’s possible to inject gratitude into this powerful approach by concentrating on what you are currently thankful for: the warmth of the sun, a great book you’re reading, or a special person in your life.

Happiness has come into sharp focus in the teeth of the pandemic. The results in a recent global Gallup survey were counterintuitive. Average happiness across 95 countries has crept up when compared to three years before Coronavirus struck. Even more surprising, Covid-19 has increased the happiness of older people more than any other group. This despite the risk of death being far higher. On average, the elderly are more cheerful while the young are more miserable.

The explanation is gratitude. Last month, The Economist put it this way: “Old people probably are not actually healthier. Rather, Covid-19 has changed the yardstick. They feel healthier because they have dodged a disease that could kill them.”

The scientific research into gratitude now supports the diversionary tactics my wife and I used with our young sons. For two tired, working parents, The Grateful Game started dinner on a positive footing and crowded out bad behavior. We found it easier to divert their attention to something positive, rather than endlessly saying “no” to negative behavior.

The same trick works for all of us. Being grateful shifts your attention away from toxic emotions and towards something more uplifting. Do it for long enough, and it permanently rewires your brain to be a happier person. And, for that, we can all be very grateful.

I am an award-winning business author, global executive educator and Programme Director at London Business School. My most recent book ‘The Human Edge, how curiosity and creativity are your superpowers in the digital economy’ (Pearson) was named as the Business Book of The Year 2020. I’ve led leadership development programmes for global clients in industries including advertising, automotive, consumer goods, banking & insurance, manufacturing, media, recruitment and technology.  I’ve shared my insights into building creative leadership and innovative teams in more than 400 virtual and face-to-face talks to executive audiences around the world. Previously, I’ve been a successful entrepreneur, the founding CEO of London Business School’s Centre for Creative Business and a national TV journalist with the BBC and ITV.

Source: For Happiness In Tough Times, Be More Grateful

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There Are Two Types of Happiness & We’re Chasing The Wrong One

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We’re always chasing something—be it a promotion, a new car, or a significant other. This leads to the belief that, “When (blank) happens, I’ll finally be happy.”

While these major events do make us happy at first, research shows this happiness doesn’t last. A study from Northwestern University measured the happiness levels of regular people against those who had won large lottery prizes the year prior. The researchers were surprised to discover that the happiness ratings of both groups were practically identical.

The mistaken notion that major life events dictate your happiness and sadness is so prevalent that psychologists have a name for it: impact bias. The reality is, event-based happiness is fleeting.

Happiness is synthetic—you either create it, or you don’t. Happiness that lasts is earned through your habits. Supremely happy people have honed habits that maintain their happiness day in, day out. Try out their habits, and see what they do for you:

1. They slow down to appreciate life’s little pleasures

By nature, we fall into routines. In some ways, this is a good thing. It saves precious brainpower and creates comfort. However, sometimes you get so caught up in your routine that you fail to appreciate the little things in life. Happy people know how important it is to savor the taste of their meal, revel in the amazing conversation they just had, or even just step outside to take a deep breath of fresh air.

2. They exercise

Getting your body moving for as little as ten minutes releases GABA, a neurotransmitter that makes your brain feel soothed and keeps you in control of your impulses. Happy people schedule regular exercise and follow through on it because they know it pays huge dividends for their mood.

3. They spend money on other people

Research shows that spending money on other people makes you much happier than spending it on yourself. This is especially true of small things that demonstrate effort, such as going out of your way to buy your friend a book that you know they will like.

4. They surround themselves with the right people

Happiness spreads through people. Surrounding yourself with happy people builds confidence, stimulates creativity, and it’s flat-out fun. Hanging around negative people has the opposite effect. They want people to join their pity party so that they can feel better about themselves. Think of it this way: If a person were smoking, would you sit there all afternoon inhaling the second-hand smoke? You’d distance yourself, and you should do the same with negative people.

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5. They stay positive

Bad things happen to everyone, including happy people. Instead of complaining about how things could have been or should have been, happy people reflect on everything they’re grateful for. Then they find the best solution available to the problem, tackle it, and move on. Nothing fuels unhappiness quite like pessimism. The problem with a pessimistic attitude, apart from the damage it does to your mood, is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you expect bad things, you’re more likely to experience negative events. Pessimistic thoughts are hard to shake off until you recognize how illogical they are. Force yourself to look at the facts, and you’ll see that things are not nearly as bad as they seem.

6. They get enough sleep

I’ve beaten this one to death over the years and can’t say enough about the importance of sleep for improving your mood, focus, and self-control. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, removing toxic proteins that accumulate during the day as byproducts of normal neuronal activity. This ensures that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your energy, attention, and memory are all reduced when you don’t get enough quality sleep. Sleep deprivation also raises stress hormone levels on its own, even without a stressor present. Happy people make sleep a priority, because it makes them feel great and they know how lousy they feel when they’re sleep deprived.

7. They have deep conversations

Happy people know that happiness and substance go hand-in-hand. They avoid gossip, small talk, and judging others. Instead they focus on meaningful interactions. They engage with other people on a deeper level, because they know that doing so feels good, builds an emotional connection, and is an interesting way to learn.

8. They help others

Taking the time to help people not only makes them happy, but it also makes you happy. In a Harvard study, employees who helped others were ten times more likely to be focused at work and 40% more likely to get a promotion. The same study showed that people who consistently provided social support were the most likely to be happy during times of high stress. As long as you make certain that you aren’t overcommitting yourself, helping others is sure to have a positive influence on your mood.

9. They make an effort to be happy

No one wakes up feeling happy every day and supremely happy people are no exception. They just work at it harder than everyone else. They know how easy it is to get sucked into a routine where you don’t monitor your emotions or actively try to be happy and positive. Happy people constantly evaluate their moods and make decisions with their happiness in mind.

10. They do things in person

Happy people only let technology do their talking when absolutely necessary. The human brain is wired for in-person interaction, so happy people will jump at the chance to drive across town to see a friend or meet face-to-face because it makes them feel good.

11. They have a growth mindset

People’s core attitudes fall into one of two categories: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. With a fixed mindset, you believe you are who you are and you cannot change. This creates problems when you’re challenged, because anything that appears to be more than you can handle is bound to make you feel hopeless and overwhelmed.

People with a growth mindset believe that they can improve with effort. This makes them happier because they are better at handling difficulties. They also outperform those with a fixed mindset because they embrace challenges, treating them as opportunities to learn something new.

Happiness can be tough to maintain, but investing in the right habits pays off. Adopting even a few of the habits from this list will make a big difference in your mood.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

Dr. Travis Bradberry
Travis Bradberry is the co-author of the bestselling book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and co-founder of TalentSmart, which provides emotional intelligence tests and training to corporate clients.
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Especially for you, we’ve collected the 50 most amazing and happiest facts that will definitely make your day a little brighter. Always look at the bright side of life!
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